girl is crying, scared, her face illuminated by the lights of patrol cars shining
on her that night at the United States-Mexico border.
Perhaps you, too, remember this haunting, heart-wrenching photograph
that went viral in the summer of 2018 and symbolized the Trump administra-
tion’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy. The girl and her mother
were Honduran asylum-seekers who crossed the Rio Grande near McAllen,
Texas, in June 2018.
At the time, the Administration was separating thou-
sands of children from their parents after they crossed the border,
a policy crafted to deter asylum-seekers.
This family separation provoked
outrage from both sides of the aisle
and censure from international bodies.
Although the policy officially ended
after enormous public outcry, families
and their advocates still suffer the impacts today.
However, what the photo of the little girl in the pink shirt failed to capture
was the intricate web of executive policies that the child and her parent would
have to navigate on their quest for asylum and the vast array of additional
administrative hurdles enacted later.
The photo also could not express the si-
multaneous, unseen executive changes limiting relief for other vulnerable
immigrants. For example, that very same spring, the Trump administration
quietly reinterpreted the legal provisions for Special Immigrant Juvenile
1. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, ‘It Was Hard to Take These Pictures, Knowing What Was Coming Next,’
NPR NEWS (June 17, 2018, 8:12 AM), https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2018/06/17/620775153/a-
photojournalist-at-the-border (interview with photographer John Moore of Getty Images).
2. John Moore (@jbmoorephoto), INSTAGRAM (June 13, 2018), https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj-
3. See Camila Domonoske & Richard Gonzales, What We Know: Family Separation and ‘Zero
Tolerance’ at the Border, NPR NEWS (June 19, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621065383/what-
4. Julia Ainsley & John Soboroff, Trump Cabinet Officials Voted in 2018 White House Meeting to
Separate Migrant Children, Say Officials, NBC NEWS (Aug. 20, 2020, 3:15 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/
(stating that the “separation of families [was] not as an unfortunate byproduct but as a tool to deter more
immigration.”); Richard Gonzales, Sessions Says ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Illegal Border Crossers, Vows to
Divide Families, NPR NEWS (May 7, 2018, 8:17 PM), https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/
07/609225537/sessions-says-zero-tolerance-for-illegal-border-crossers-vows-to-divide-families; see generally
Stephen Lee, Family Separation as Slow Death, 119 COLUM. L. REV. 2319 (2019).
5. David Smith & Tom Phillips, Child Separations: Trump Faces Extreme Backlash from Public and
His Own Party, GUARDIAN (June 19, 2018, 14:23 EDT), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/
6. UN Office Calls on US to Stop Separating Families at Border, AP NEWS (June 5, 2018), https://
7. Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation, Exec. Order No. 13,841, 83
Fed. Reg. 29,435 (June 25, 2018).
8. See, e.g., Caitlin Dickerson, Parents of 545 Children Separated at the Border Cannot Be Found,
N.Y. TIMES, (Oct. 20, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/us/migrant-children-separated.html?
smid=tw-share (discussing ongoing separation of families); Caitlin Dickerson, Migrant Children are
Being Expelled to Mexico, N.Y. TIMES (Oct. 30, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/us/
(discussing removal of Central American children to Mexico).
9. See generally Lindsay M. Harris, Asylum Under Attack, 67 LOY. L. REV. 1 (2020) (explaining
many of Trump’s asylum restrictions in detail).
2021] UNSEEN POLICIES: TRUMP’S IMMIGRATION POWER GRAB 803